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WHAT HAPPENED TO LYTHAM, LANCASHIRE, AFTER THE GOVERNMENT’S DISSOLUTION OF THE CATHOLIC MONASTERIES?

Lytham

“At the dissolution of the monasteries, the former Benedictine Cell of Lytham, which had been a dependency of Durham Abbey, was granted to Sir Thomas Holcroft, a noted ‘trafficker’ in confiscated monastic possessions. He sold the property to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, and thus Lytham became the principal residence of the Cliftons, a family which had held large estates in Lancashire as early as 1258. Sir Cuthbert Clifton was a staunch Catholic, for at the dissolution of the monasteries he gave a home in his own house to Thomas Prymbett for the rest of his life, inasmuch as Prymbett had been the officiating priest of the Clifton Chantry at the parish church of Kirkham.

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine monastery is now unknown

The exact spot occupied by the Benedictine cell is unknown, but it is thought to have been on or near the site of the present Hall at Lytham; for in the walls of some of the offices attached to it, remains of the ancient monastic edifice have been incorporated. Sir Cuthbert Clifton built the first Hall in 1625 on his first possessing the estate, and a large room was constructed within it, most probably for a chapel. This remained unaltered when the Hall was rebuilt by Thomas Clifton in 1764. So far the Catholic Annual and I quite agree with the account; but when it goes on to say, ‘It was used for Mass up to the year 1800. It is now in existence and is used as a lumber room,’ these two sentences seem to me to apply only to the chapel wing, which was built in 1764, as the date cut in stone bears witness. Nothing more likely than that Thomas Clifton in 1764, when he was building the new Hall, would construct a special chapel and a priest’s room, and place these at the back of the Hall for secrecy, since emancipation had not then been granted. But the ‘large room’ constructed in 1625, and remaining unaltered in 1764, is the ‘picture-gallery’ so called. There would be little object in placing so large a room on the second floor of the house, unless it were that its size might accommodate the tenantry and neighbouring Catholics, and its retired position ensure the desired amount of secrecy.

Lytham Hall, "The Large Room", ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, “The Large Room”, ca. 1923

‘The man at the top of the house’

The above is confirmed by the practice, common in times of persecution, of speaking of the priest or chaplain at these Catholic houses as ‘the man at the top of the house.’ Our illustration shows ‘the large room,’ and here from 1625 to 1764 holy Mass was offered by the numerous priests who, in succession, served the Catholics of Lytham. The old oak floor, well worn by generations of faithful Catholic worshippers, comes out well in the photograph. In passing, it may be mentioned that similar ‘large rooms’ are found in many of the old Catholic houses; for example, at Speke Hall and at Astley Hall, near Chorley, both of which were built at the time when their owners were staunch Catholics.

The site where the Hall now stands has been uses as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800

In any case, the site where the Hall now stands has been used for Catholic services, as a Benedictine cell from 1199 till the Reformation, and as a chapel of persecution times from 1554 to 1800. It certainly has associations venerable to the Catholics of to-day. From 1800 to 1839 Mass was said in a tythe-barn fitted up as a chapel, the priest living in a house close by. In 1839 the present church, dedicated to St Peter, was solemnly opened by Bishop Briggs, and thus the days of the Hall chapel, with its services in concealment and secrecy, passed away, and the Catholics of Lytham rapidly increased in numbers and importance in the town.

Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled by the Government agencies, but he managed to return

MrMr. Gillow (Cat. Rec. Soc., Vol. XVI) gives a complete list of the priests who served the Mission of Lytham, of which the following is an abbreviation. The first was Rev. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias Scroop, alias Hart, who wrote many learned works under the pseudonym ‘John Brereley, Priest.’ He had studied at the University of Cambridge, where he gained the title of ‘Silver-mouthed Anderton.’ He published several controversial works, which were printed at the secret printing press at his cousin’s house at Lostock Hall, and later at Birchley Hall. At some period Father Anderton was apprehended and exiled, but he seems soon to have returned to the Mission, and it is probable that he became chaplain to Sir Cuthbert Clifton, when this latter removed from West by to Lytham till his death in 1643, aged sixty-seven. In 1629 we have the mention of ‘Anderton and Smith, two priests at Sir Cuthbert Clifton’s’ (Cat. Rec. Soc. Miss., III, 108).

Father William Shackleton, alias Stanton, alias Bannister, S.J., succeeded Father Anderton at Lytham Hall, where he is found baptising many of the Cliftons. He died there in 1655, aged seventy-one.

He received a letter which apparently had been intercepted

Father Augustus Heneage, alias Newby, S.J., came to Lytham in 1653, two years before Father Shackleton’s death. He was brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Clifton, whose wife Bridget was Father Heneage’s sister. From a letter of the Earl of Derby to the Duke of Albemarle dated from Lathom House, March 10, 1664, it appears that Father Heneage, like his predecessor, was an active controversialist. The Earl enclosed a letter, dated February 21, 1664, which apparently had been intercepted, from Augustus Heneage, ‘a supposed priest, living in Sir Thomas Clifton’s house, to Mr. Edward Keynes, S.J., who lived with Sir Cecil Trafford.’ Father Heneage had had ‘verbal skirmishes with his old friends, the Nigri (Anglican ministers), who showed ignorance and knavery,’ and asked Father Keynes to send him John Lewgar’s Erastus Senior, published in 1662. This book, says Mr. Gillow, whose account we are following, referred to the question of the validity of Anglican ordinations, and made so great an impression upon the Anglican clergy, who thereby became sensible to the defects of the ordination forms of the episcopacy and priesthood hitherto in use, that immediately after its publication in the year 1662 it was made obligatory by a decree of Convocation to use more explicit forms. In consequence both Father Heneage and Father Keynes had to fly from their respective stations. The former went to London, where he died a victim to the plague, January 18, 1669, aged fifty-two.

He was taken to the Tower of London to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge

Father John Stevenson, S.J., came to Lytham Hall in 1676, and remained there till his death in 1692, when he was succeeded by Father Thomas Blundell, S.J., third son of William Blundell, of Crosby. Two years later Sir Thomas Clifton was arrested at Wrea Green, July 17, 1694, taken to the Tower of London, and brought back to Manchester to be tried for his life on a trumped-up charge of high treason, with Sir William Gerard of Bryn, and a number of other Lancashire gentlemen. He was acquitted, but the strain had been too great, and he died on November 13. It is probable that he died before he could return to Lytham. Anyhow, his body was carried to Kirkham for internment with his ancestors in the parish church.

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

Lytham Hall, ca. 1923

‘O death, where is thy victory?’

But before starting on its last journey, ‘a funeral sermon upon Sir Thomas Clifton,’ under the text ‘O death, where is thy victory?’ was preached by Rev. Richard Jameson. Father Blundell remained at Lytham Hall till his death ‘in Mr. Clifton’s house on Wednesday, 27th May, 1702. His body was carried to Crosby and buried in ye Harkirke on ye 29th. He was a learned man, aged 55’ (Crosby Records, p. 81). These were wonderful times, when the Catholic lord of the manor died in prison, or at any rate died as the result of imprisonment, as did Sir Thomas Clifton, whilst his chaplain only eight years later was carried in funeral procession the long distance from Lytham to Crosby. But then the good priest wished to be buried in consecrated ground, and certainly no more beautiful spot could be found than the little Catholic cemetery of Harkirke, which had cost his forefathers so dear. [Footnote: ‘Blundell of Crosby was fined £2,000, equal to £20,000 of the present money [around 1923], for burying Papists and other excommunicated persons in Harkirke.]

The feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass

Father Ralph Hornyhold, alias Glover, S.J., was priest at Lytham from 1702 till 1722; Father Christopher Burton, S.J., 1722 to 1728; Father John Gosling, alias Bennett, S.J., 1728 to 1741. Early in 1729 the Vicar-Apostolic of the Northern District, Bishop Thomas Williams, O.P., made his visitation at Lytham, and confirmed in the Hall chapel 247 persons belonging to the Lytham and West by congregations. Father Berington, alias Harper, S.J., was at Lytham only two years when he died, and was interred in Lytham parish church, the registers of which contain the entry, ‘John Harper (R.C.) from ye Hall, 18 Aug. 1743.’

Father John Talbot, alias Mansell, came to Lytham in September, 1743, and his salary from the Cliftons seems to have been increased to £13; no mean figure, be it noted, for 100 years after this the allowance from Propaganda to the priests in the Highlands of Scotland was only £12. After the rising of 1745 in favour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the feeling against Catholics was so great, and the bigotry so violent, that the door of the chapel at Lytham Hall had to be locked before Father Mansell began Mass. In a report to his superiors in 1750, he returned the number of communicants in his congregation at 230. In January, 1753, he began the existing baptismal register. In 1767 the Protestant Bishop of Chester had a report drawn up of all Catholics in his diocese, and ‘John Mansell, alias Talbot, Jesuit priest,’ appears as chaplain to Thomas Clifton, Esq., the congregation being estimated at 384. In 1774 Bishop Walton confirmed 148 persons in the Hall chapel, and ten years later Bishop Mathew Gibson confirmed eighty-six persons…

In 1791 Father Mansell, enfeebled by age, retired from Lytham, where he had been priests in charge for nearly fifty years. He died at Walton-le-dale, near Preston, in 1799, aged ninety. Meanwhile the Society of Jesus had been suppressed in 1773, and as the ‘gentlemen of the ex-Society,’ as they were called, gradually became reduced in numbers, they withdrew from the Lytham Mission, to which a Benedictine in the person of the Rev. William Blacow, O.S.B., was appointed, who remained till 1793.

A tythe-barn was fitted up as a chapel

Dom Richard Pope, O.S.B., was here ten years – 1793 to 1803. It was during his incumbency that the chapel in the Hall was closed, and a tythe-barn just outside the park was fitted up as a chapel. The Mission was then handed over to the Bishop of the Northern Vicariate, who appointef Rev. Thomas Dawson. Owing to ill-health, he had numerous assistants, Rev. John Lawson being definitely appointed as his curate in 1820. Both these priests left in 1829 for Croston Hall, and later they together started the Mission at Mawdesley.

Of Mr. Pope the story is told that he used to ride a very poor-looking old pony, and riding one day in the neighbourhood of Chorley he was overtaken by several young gentlemen also riding – one of them being the late Mr. Townley Parker – who had recently been made magistrates (J.P.). They began to chaff him about his pony, and advised him to get a donkey instead. He very quietly said, ‘I would, but, unfortunately, they are very bad to get, as they have all been made J.P.s.’

In 1839, the present church was opened

Rev. Joseph Walmesley came to Lytham in 1829, and remained till his death in 1873, when he was buried at The Willows, Kirkham. In 1839 he opened the present church, dedicated to St Peter, and fitted up the new church with benches and other furniture from the old tythe-barn chapel. After being Rector of the Mission for over forty-four years, Mr. Walmesley died in harness, August 16, 1873, aged seventy-one, respected by all the inhabitants of Lytham, and held in affectionate memory by many people to this day.

Rev. Roger Taylor was priest at Lytham from 1874 to 1885. In 1874 he enlarged the schools and built an infant school. In 1875-76 he erected new sacristies and constructed the side chapels, and in the following year he added a new high altar, Lady altar, and altar of St. Joseph. He was succeeded by his brother, Canon James Taylor, who built the spacious new rectory, and in 1892 opened the cemetery and mortuary chapel. Canon O’Reilly, the present rector, succeeded, and has recently entirely renovated the church building…

Colonel Talbot Clifton, who had been reconciled to the Church in 1878 built the handsome tower at the cost of £1,000; he likewise re-leased the rectory for ninety-nine years and the church for 999 years on a nominal chief rent. His funeral was one of the most impressive events in the history of Lytham, the priest having most thoughtfully sent a mortuary card to each and every Catholic house in the parish, feeling sure – as he said – that they would be glad to possess a moment of one who had endeared himself to all. As the local paper expressed it: ‘The fact of the family having been members of the Catholic Church accounts for the non-appearance of the name of Clifton on the roll of Sheriffs from the time of the Reformation. Their long and steadfast adherence to the ancient Faith was no doubt one of the principal means of so large a portion of The Fylde remaining attached to the Catholic Church.'”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1925

 

 

 

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THE HAMLET OF GILLMOSS, LANCASHIRE, WHERE THE LAMP OF FAITH WAS KEPT BURNING THROUGHOUT THE TIMES OF PERSECUTION OF CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS

A brief history 

“Rev. Thomas Taylor, for many years priest at Gillmoss, contributed to the Catholic Annual Directory for 1913 a most interesting account of this Mission. Previously to that Dom Gilbert Dolan had published in the Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire a fairly detailed list of the priests who had served this mission. From these two sources the following is compiled.

He practised the Catholic Faith in secret

Two miles beyond the village of West Derby, and skirting Croxteth Park, the ancestral home of the Molyneux family, lies the hamlet of Gillmoss, where the Lamp of the Faith was kept burning throughout the times of persecution by the lords of Molyneux, who remained staunch adherents of the Old Faith till their unfortunate son forsook it in 1769, just when happier days were dawning. In Lord Burghley’s map of Lancashire, dated 1590, a cross is placed against the name of Sir Richard Molyneux, of Croxteth Hall, as being one of the popish recusants, against whom the penal laws were to be rigorously enforced. In the ‘Vewe of ye State of ye Countie’ it is said that ‘he maketh shew of good conformitie, but many of his company ar in evell note.’ He temporised outwardly and practised his religion in secret. His children were brought up Catholics, and all his descendants remained so till the premature death of the father of the ninth Viscount Molyneux. Throughout the days of persecution Mass was regularly said in the private chapels of Croxteth and Sefton. Among the noble confessors for the Faith in times of persecution there were several Molyneux: Caryll, Viscount Molyneux (Baronet of Sefton and third Viscount Molyneux of Maryborough in Ireland); John Molyneux, of the Wood, Melling, who died in Salford Gaol in 1581 for harboring six Catholic priests (one of them was the famous Cardinal Allen); Anthony Molyneux, Esq., who was banished from the kingdom for his Faith, and who died in 1586 in St Dominica; and also Father Thomas Molyneux, S.J., who was tried at Newcastle Assizes for being a priest and a Jesuit. He was poisoned in Morpeth Prison on January 12, 1681, aged forty-three.

There were many witnesses of this murder

As there were many witnesses of this murder, the prison authorities gave it out that this holy priest had committed suicide, and they cast his body on a dungheap for the fanatical mob to cast all kinds of filth on it. When the body was exhumed ten years later, it was found perfectly incorrupt and as white and flexible as that of a living person. In 1746, when the Lord of the Manor was a Jesuit priest – the Rev. William, seventh Viscount Molyneux – there were seven members of this family in the Society of Jesus. For more than two centuries, in defiance of the savage penal laws then in force, a chaplain was maintained at Croxteth Hall to minister to the Catholics in the neighbourhood, and the ancient Mission, now known as Gillmoss, had its origin in this chaplaincy.

The old chapel and presbytery, Gillmoss

The old chapel and presbytery, Gillmoss, ca. 1923

In defiance of the savage penal laws in force…

In 1768 Charles William, ninth Viscount Molyneux (who was created first Earl of Sexton in 1772 in reward for his desertion of the Catholic Faith), caused a presbytery to be built up to the end of a farmhouse at Gillmoss, near Croxteth Hall, and converted the attics in this farmhouse into a chapel, to be used by the residents in place of the chapel at the Hall. Regarding the unfortunate lapse of the head of this once great Catholic family a recent writer has with much fairness said: ‘Hon. Charles William became ninth Viscount Molyneux on the death of his uncle, Rev. Viscount Molyneux, S.J., in 1769. He was at this time only eleven years of age. It has frequently been asserted that he ’embraced’ Protestantism [the compulsory belief-system enforced by the state], and he has been stigmatised as an ‘apostate’; but as his father had left him under the guardianship of the Protestant Duke of Beaufort and others, without any stipulation as to religion, it is highly improbable that he had any opportunities of being brought up a Roman Catholic. At the age of twenty he publicly read ‘a renunciation of the Errors of the Church of Rome’ before the curate and clerk of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, London, on 5th March, 1769. This curious document is now in the muniment room at Croxteth.’ The truth is that the responsibility in this matter rests with the Government of the time, which seized every opportunity of placing Catholic minors under Protestant guardians, thus ensuring the Protestant education of the heirs to great estates. The Penal Laws being then in force, the relatives had no redress. This same device was practised in the case of the young Bradshaigh, of Haigh Hall, and many other leading English families, and also in the still more remarkable case of the young Duke of Gordon in Scotland in 1728, whose father, the second Duke, died from the effects of a hurried journey from the Highlands to London to defend the little Catholic chapel of St Ninian in the Enzie from desecration.

He had hurried to defend the little Catholic chapel of St Ninian from desecration

The chaplains at Croxteth Hall were the following: From 1600 to 1634 the names of the chaplains are not yet known; in all probability the Rev. John Birtwistle, who came from Valladolid in 1600, served here till his death, when he was buried at Harkirk, February 26, 1620; the Rev. Thomas Fazakerley, alias Ashton, came from Rome in 1636, and died here March 22, 1664, and was buried at Harkirk; the Rev. John Birtwistle died here January 26, 1680, and was buried at Harkirk; Rev. Thomas Martin, a native of Ireland, died here, and was buried at Harkirk, June 11, 1691; Father Albert Babthorpe, S.J., was here in 1701-1704, but was probably tutor to the family, for the chaplaincy was served by the secular clergy; Richard Hitchmough, alias Barker, the notorious apostate, informer, and pursuivant, states that he was chaplain here in 1709.

The snares of worldly rewards

He had become an apostate in 1714, and was rewarded for his treachery with the vicarage of Whenby in Yorkshire. In 1717 Hitchmough informed the Commissioners for Forfeited Estates that ‘at Croxteth in the hundred of Derby, in the County of Lancaster, the seat of the Rt. Hon. William, Viscount Molyneux, were one large silver chalice double gilt within with gold; one large paten of pure gold; two silver crucibles alias cruets, for wine and water; one silver plate upon which the said crucibles did stand; six tall silver candlesticks; and a large silver crucifix, the whole solid silver, and which the Lady Molyneux, the first wife to his present Lordship, told this deponent cost his Lordship £400 in London. All the above plate this deponent says he saw often in the year 1709, at which time he officiated there as chaplain to his Lordship.’ Certainly, the family at that time had the true Catholic spirit, when they so handsomely provided for the celebration of holy Mass; but this generosity was almost universal in the old Catholic homes of Lancashire and of England generally.

The Government rewarded informers with titles, money and property of Catholic Christians

But to continue the list of chaplains: Father Thomas Worthington, O.P., was here from 1713 to 1717, when the fourth Viscount died. Father Worthington’s register is now at Middleton in Yorkshire. Between the years 1713 and 1717 four marriages are recorded, the second on the list being that of William, Viscount Molyneux, to Mary Skelton, but as Lord Molyneux died in the following year, this marriage apparently has never been given in the Peerage. It is witnessed by – Skelton, Robert Molyneux, James Leyburn, and Father Worthington. The rest of the book contains thirty-one baptisms under the heading, ‘List of those baptised by Father Thomas Worthington, Miss. Apost. 1713 to 1717,’ and most of these are stated to have taken place ‘in capella de Croxteth.’ A little further on occurs the entry: ‘1727, 11 Aug. I received of Sister Veronica a crown for Bro. Ivor A ducate on account of M. Skeldon…. Two little rings and a silver Seal for Neece Ursula from Sister and Aunt; she being dead I left ’em for nephew Tom with Mrs. Molyneux of Mosborow.’ (Copy of register at Somerset House, kindly supplied by R. J. Broadbent, Esq.)

The Catholic Relief Act had not yet been passed…

Rev. Richard Jameson, who was serving the Mission of Bardsea, a hunting seat of Lord Molyneux, till the troubles of 1715, when he fled to Ashton, probably succeeded Father Worthington. Father Richard Billinge, S.J., was here on March 5, 1720; Father John Cuerdon, of the Discalced Carmelites, served here from Sefton from September, 1726. In 1728 Bishop Williams confirmed 207 persons here. Rev. Robert Kendal came to Croxteth in or about 1733, and died there April 19, 1746, aged forty-five, and was buried at Sexton as ‘Priest from Crocksteth.’

Caryll, the sixth Viscount, having died a few months before Father Kendal, was succeeded by Father William Molyneux, S.J., who transferred the chaplaincy to his own order. Father Charles Dormer, S.J., sixth Lord Former, was appointed in 1747, but removed to Foole Hall, Cheshire, in September, 1750; Father John Bodenham came in 1750, and died here that same year. Father Sebastian Redford was appointed in November, 1750, and stayed till 1756. The chaplaincy at the Hall was then transferred to the Benedictines, who had long served that at Sefton Hall.

It was illegal to build a Catholic chapel

From 1756 to 1768 Dom Bernard Bennet Bolas, O.S.B., served as chaplain. In 1768 the Croxteth Hall chaplaincy ceased through the approaching marriage and change of religion of Charles William, ninth Viscount Molyneux, who married Isabella Stanhope, daughter of the Earl of Harrington, and who provided a new chapel in the attics of a farmhouse at Gillmoss and a presbytery for Father Bolas in place of the chapel at Croxteth Hall, as already narrated.

Father Bolas, O.S.B., had charge of the ‘old chapel’ from 1768 till his death in 1773. This chapel may be seen by visitors at any time, and will be found in the same condition as in Father Bolas’s days. In the illustration the centre building contains the chapel, which ran from end to end of the attic. On visiting it one is surprised to find how roomy it is. A very similar position is seen at Hornby, where the large attic above the priest’s house was evidently intended for a chapel. One must of course bear in mind that the first Catholic Relief Act had not yet been passed: hence it was illegal to build a Catholic chapel, and the best that could be done was to use the space under the roof. A visit to these attic chapels is very instructive and serves to impress on the mind the difficulties of our Catholic forefathers.

It serves to impress on the mind the difficulties of our Catholic forefathers

Oftentimes distinguished visitors attended this hallowed sanctuary, as it is shown by the following record on the back of one of the baptismal registers at Gillmoss in the handwriting of Rev. Joseph Emmott, S.J., who was then the priest there: ‘During the month of September, 1812, Mons. le Comte d’Artois, with his attendants, the Baron de Rolles and the Duc de Berri, paid his customary annual visit to Croxteth Hall, and, as usual, came regularly to prayers at Gillmoss. His seat in the chapel, known by the name of ‘the King of France’s seat,’ is the one nearest to the Gospel side of the Altar.’ The Comte d’Artois became Charles X, King of France, in 1824, his elder brother, the Comte de Provence, ascending the French throne in 1814 as Louis XVIII. Both were brothers of the ill-fated Louis XVI, who was guillotined during the Revolution. The Duc de Berri, son of the Comte d’Artois, and father of the Comte de Chambord (the last of the elder branch of the Bourbons), was assassinated by Louvel in 1820.

The future King of France had attended Mass regularly at Gillmoss

The priests who ministered for fifty-six in the old chapel (1768-1824) were: Father Bolas, O.S.B. (1768-1773); Father Joseph Emmott, S.J., who states in one of the registers that he came to Gillmoss on April 10, 1773, and who died there in 1816, aged eighty-two. During his time Bishop Walton confirmed in the ‘old chapel’ 200 persons (June, 1774). In 1783 the congregation was reckoned to number 200. In October, 1784, Bishop Matthew Gibson confirmed 62 persons, the communicants being returned at 175.

St Swithin's Church and presbytery, Gillmoss, ca. 1923

St Swithin’s Church and presbytery, Gillmoss, ca. 1923

‘For the glory of God and the benefit of the neighbouring Catholics’

The Jesuit Fathers attended the Mission till the year 1887, when it was transferred to the secular clergy, and Rev. John Kelly took charge. He was succeeded in 1891 by Rev. Thomas Taylor, to whom we are indebted for much of the above account. Rev. Wilfred Carr came to Gillmoss in 1913 and remained till 1921. Of the Jesuit Fathers, the two who resided longest at Gillmoss were Father Joseph Cope and Father Edward Morrison. The former built the present church of St Swithin a few yards distant from the ‘old chapel,’ and added the presbytery in 1826. His epitaph may be read on the right of the church-door entrance as follows: ‘Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Joseph Cope, S.J., who for the glory of God and the benefit of the neighbouring Catholics, by great personal exertions, mainly contributed to the erection of this chapel. Loved in life, he died lamented on 20th Dec., 1834, in the forty-fifth year of his age.’ Other Jesuits buried here are Fathers West, Morron, Hilton, Brindle, Noble, Etheridge, etc., whilst of the laity the names occur of many good old Catholic families, it being a favourite burial-place for the Catholic gentry. And, as it were, to link up Gillmoss with the Molyneux family, the Molyneux arms (azure, a cross moline) were fixed in stone on the outside wall over the entrance door of the present church of St Swithin, when it was opened in 1824, whilst in the cemetery lie buried Captain Hon. Roger Molyneux, and his only son, Roger Anthony, aged ten-and-a-half, who was buried at St Swithin’s in 1902, whilst all around lie the remains of old-time worthies, with names redolent of the Lancashire soil.

Two altar stones of penal times of rough slate and stone

There are some large and valuable oil-paintings hanging on the walls of the present church – The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Dead Christ, Mater Dolorosa, etc. – which pictures probably came from Croxteth Hall after Lord Molyneux had forsaken the religion of his forefathers in 1769. In the sacristy is the ‘Molyneux Ciborium,’ on the rim of which are scratched the following words: ‘The gift of ye Hon. Mary Molyneux to Croxteth, 1738. Pray for her.’ Also two altar stones of penal times of rough slate and stone, on which holy Mass had often been said.”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Gillmoss, in Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1925

 

 

 

 

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CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS DURING THE YEARS OF PERSECUTION AT CLAUGHTON, NORTH WEST ENGLAND

…to find a priest to sing Mass in a chapel

“Monsignor Gradwell, in his account of the Catholic Church at Claughton (Catholic Family Directory, 1885), states that in the reign of Elizabeth, James and Hugh Anderton, the Vicars of Garstang, three miles distant, are said to have clung to the old Faith, and that there was a local tradition that St. Helen’s Church, at Churchtown, continued to have Mass said in it long after the new religion had been set up in the neighbouring churches. The Squire of Claughton at that time was a minor, but he escaped the peril of perversion, under which so many heirs of great houses fell away, and later married a Miss Braddyll, who earned the honourable title of a ‘bigoted Papist’ in the pursuivant’s reports. As the reign of Elizabeth advanced, we find him in prison in Manchester on account of his faith, and again and again called upon for fines for his own and his wife’s recusancy. In the year 1591 there was a chapel at Claughton, in Garstang, near to the house of Thomas Brockholes, holding lands called Langscales, and proceedings were instituted to ascertain ‘whether the lands were given for superstitious uses, that is, to find a priest to sing Mass in the chapel’; and five years later an action on the part of John Downing against Thomas Brockholes was tried at Preston, to settle the question, though with what results is not known.

Claughton Chapel, ca. 1923

Claughton Chapel, ca. 1923

Successive generations felt the full pressure of the penal laws

Thomas Brockholes’ second wife was Dorothy Leyburne, of Cunswick, Co. Westmorland. She was repeatedly fined for her recusancy, and appears in the annual lists with her husband, who principally resided at Heaton, until his death there in 1618. In 1607 this Thomas Brockholes came within the operation of one of those iniquitous grants, first begun by James I, by which the benefit of his recusancy – that is, two-thirds of his estate, with other penalties imposed by law – was handed over to the voracious appetite of a needy Scotsman, David Stewart. In the following year, after the Scotsman had squeezed all he could out of the estate, Mr. Brockholes’ recusancy, with that of other Lancashire Catholic gentlemen, was transferred to another hanger-on of the Court, Charles Chambers, perhaps an Englishman, for the English had then begun to grumble at the plunder the Scotch favourites of King James were reaping from the English Catholics.

Successive generations both at Claughton and at Heaton Halls felt the full pressure of the penal laws. In each of these residences there were chapels. In the seventeenth century two priests of the family appear in the diaries of Douai and Lisbon: Thomas and Roger, younger sons of Thomas Brockholes. Both of them often said Mass at Claughton and at Heaton. The elder, Thomas, took the missionary oath at Douai College, September 8, 1676, and in due course was ordained priest, and came on the Mission. In the reign of James II he officiated at Whitehall, London, and in March, 1697, he appears to have been in Lancashire. About 1716 he was acting as chaplain to the Masseys of Paddington Hall, the seat of the Standish family, but subsequently he removed to Burgh Hall, near Chorley, where he died on November 10, 1738.i

The younger brother, Roger, took the oath at Douai in 1678. In 1695 he came on the Mission, and was appointed senior chaplain to the Convent at York Bar, where he died in 1700.

Priests of the Brockholes family

In the following generation there were three Brockholes priests: Thomas, Roger, and Charles, this last of the Society of Jesus. Thomas, the eldest of the three, became an alumnus at Douai, December 8, 1705, was ordained priest in 1706, and remained at the College for many years as general prefect and procurator. In his later years he was Vicar-General to Bishop Stonor. He died on January 16, 1758, at Chillington, where he had been priest since 1730.

Roger Brockholes was born at Claughton in 1682, and after studying some time at Ladywell, Fernyhalgh, went abroad and was admitted to the English College, Rome, October 17, 1703. He was ordained in 1708, and came to Lancashire in 1710, where he served various districts round the place of his birth, eventually fixing his abode at one of his father’s farms, now called Priestholme, and he thus appears in Bishop Dicconson’s list in 1741. He died the following year at Priestholme, which was eventually settled upon the secular clergy serving Claughton.

Charles, the third priest of the family, was born in 1684, entered the Society in September, 1705, and was sent to Maryland in 1711. He returned to England in 1716, and served the Missions of Blackrod and Wigan for many years, dying at the latter place in 1759, the last of his family.

A generous gift

The name of Brockholes was then assumed in succession by the three sons of Mary, daughter of John Brockholes, and sister of the three priests above, who had married, in 1710, William Hesketh, of Maybes Hall. After the death of her three sons without issue the estates passed in 1783 to the Fitzherberts, who likewise assumed the additional name of Brockholes. The beautiful pre-Reformation chalice now at Claughton chapel came to the Brockholes through the Heskeths of Maynes Hall, where it had long been in use. Tradition says that it once belonged to the parish church of Poulton-le-Fylde. It was carefully repaired and regilt, at the expense of Mr. Francis Brockholes, by Messrs. Hardman, of Birmingham, under the direction of the elder Pugin. A new paten was made to replace the old one, which had been converted into the lid when the chalice was used as a ciborium.

The old Squire, as he was familiarly called, kept up a friendly rivalry with the priest of the time, Monsignor Gradwell, as to who should be foremost in their affection for the church. Mr. Brockholes gave the stations, beside many other valuable requisites for the altar; he also gave the Lady Altar and Monsignor Gradwell that of St Joseph. ‘A thousand pounds from each would not cover the expenditure incurred about this time in adorning what both loved – the House of God.’ The Squire just before his death conveyed to the Bishop a most eligible plot of ground adjoining the church, for a cemetery, and he undertook to lay it out, fence it, and hand it over to the ecclesiastical authorities, free of charge. He died December 21, 1873, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, ‘greatly honoured and deeply lamented.’

… a better knowledge of those who died for our holy Catholic faith…

So much for the family at Claughton Hall. Of the successive priests, it seems clear that Father Thomas Whitaker, the venerable martyr, attended to the Catholics at Claughton. He was arrested at Blakehall in Goosnargh, the next parish to Claughton, and conducted to Lancaster Castle, where he arrived August 7, 1643. After three years in that most awful prison he was executed, having shown throughout shown the highest degree of every Christian virtue. His portrait has been preserved at the English College, Valladolid, where he studied, and a statue to his memory was erected in the cemetery at Claughton by Mgr. Gradwell, a precedent which might with great advantage be followed in other districts, where a better knowledge of those who died for our holy Catholic Faith is much to be desired. Among the many relics of olden times at Claughton is a small wooden tabernacle used by Father Whitaker to keep the pyx and Blessed Sacrament for the sick.

The premises were searched by the state agencies

Mgr. Gradwell asserts that the next priest was a Rev. T. Walmesley, but Mr. Gillow does not think that there was any priest of that name at the date in question. Rev. Edward Blackburn, the next in order, was certainly at Claughton in 1673, as appears from the original register of the Lancashire Clergy Fund, which was instituted in that year and is subscribed by Mr. Blackburn. In an article in the Month, May, 1873, a paper is given extracted from the Harleian Miscellany, containing the signatures of a certain number of priests to some arrangement among themselves to say certain Masses and collect funds. Among the signatories is Edwardus Blackburn, and he is named collector for the Hundred of Lonsdale. The date is February 28, 1675, and the Edward Blackburn named is evidently the priest at Claughton. The document had been found by Bolron, the informer, at Stonyhurst, the residence of Richard Sherburne, Esq., in the room of the chaplain, Rev. Edward Cottam. Bolron, who had received a warrant from the Privy Council to make search in the houses of the Catholic gentry of Lancashire for treasonable papers, pounces upon this innocent list, and in a letter dated December 6, 1680, forwards it to the Privy Council as a convincing proof of the damnable plots got up by the Jesuits against the life of his most sacred Majesty Charles II, and for the destruction of the Protestant religion!

Sunny hillsides, shady glens, smiling farmsteads – and the difficulties through which Catholic Christians had to pass

Benefactions began, even at this early time after the grinding persecutions of Elizabeth and Cromwell, to be bestowed on the Catholic clergy, and it was in 1618 that we first find mention of what long went under the name of the ‘Garstang Parish Trust.’ By a deed bearing date June 24, 1680, William Graddell of Barbles Moor, Gent., appointed Rev. E. Blackburn trustee in his place for a benefaction from the Molyneux family.

At what date Rev. R. Taylor came as assistant to his uncle, Mr. Blackburn, is uncertain. He was certainly at Claughton in 1684, as the annual meeting of the clergy was held at his house in that year, and this brings us to a still more important fact in the history of the Claughton Mission. The uncle and nephew, about this time, purchased a plot of land in Claughton, upon a portion of which the church and house now stand. The purchase money was £205, of which Mr. Blackburn paid £100 and Mr. Taylor £105, whilst the latter was at the sole charge of building the house. It was a sufficiently modest building at first, consisting only of the present lobbies and the vestry, with the rooms above; and more than a century elapsed before it received any considerable addition. There was, of course, no chapel attached to it, for the severity of the times did not allow of any building being devoted to Catholic worship. No doubt the priest was accustomed to say Mass, as occasion offered, sometimes at home and at other times in the houses of devout Catholics in the neighbourhood.

Small, however, as the old house was, it was the seedling from which the present most complete establishment was to grow. Mr. Hewitson thus describes his first visit to Claughton: ‘For sweetness of position, richness of isolation; for sunny hillsides and shady glens; for smiling farmsteads and magnificent woodland scenery and all that makes country life a joy and a talisman, commend me to Claughton.’ The writer was alluding to the natural charms of the scenery, but to the Lancashire Catholic, Claughton has the additional charm of always having been well in advance of the times, so far as the practice of the Catholic religion was concerned, and of having to-day many remains of great interest to show the difficulties through which that Faith and its adherents had to pass.

An image of the Sacred Heart displayed in the home

Rev. E. Blackburn died September 20, 1708, having been more than thirty years resident at Claughton, and, as he was then called, ‘secular clergy incumbent’ of Garstang parish. His nephew and successor, Rev. Richard Taylor, lived to an extreme old age. There is still remaining at the Rectory an oak desk carved with his initials, R. T., and the date 1680, and in the library are some valuable books of divinity and ecclesiastical history marked with his name. In 1714 he named Rev. Christopher Tuttell, then priest at Fernyhalgh, and Rev. William Caton, of Great Eccleston, as his successors in the Garstang Parish Fund, he having during his term of office received the additional benefaction of £100 from Mrs. Grace Barnes and placed it under the same Trust. Mgr. Gradwell states that in 1715 Mr. Taylor retired to an obscure house in Goosnargh, where he officiated with great privacy to the poor Catholics as often as it was thought safe and prudent to do so. He was frequently sought for by the priest-catchers, but always eluded their search.

He was frequently sought for by the priest-catchers

This was the time of the first Stuart Rising, when all Lancashire was in a ferment, and the Catholics had much to suffer from their loyalty to the old Stuart line of kings. Mr. Taylor died in 1726. In his will he describes himself as Richard Taylor, of Claughton, gentleman. Another relic of him, which is still preserved, is a flat stone, 1 inch thick and 13 inches long by 12 inches wide, and appears to have been inserted over a fireplace. At the top in low relief is a representation of the Host, in the middle his initials R. T., and between them the Sacred Heart. Below is the date 1714. This is the more remarkable as the Devotion to the Sacred Heart had only recently been introduced into England by the preaching of Father Colombiere, S.J., confessor of Mary of Modena, Queen of James II.  It says much for the earnestness of Father Taylor’s devotion that, in times of so much risk and uncertainty, he should have had these sacred emblems carved in stone and exhibited conspicuously in his house.

A very good example of a priest’s hiding-place

Rev. Richard Birtwistle was at Claughton only for a short time, and was succeeded by Rev. Roger Brockholes, a younger son of the squire. He was born in 1682, and was ordained in Rome in 1708. At what date he came to Claughton is uncertain, but he settled at one of his father’s farms, now called Priestholme, and in the tenancy of Mr. Rogerson. Here is a very good example of a priest’s hiding-place. It is on the first floor, in a small lobby off the main room. I found that I could just stand in it, but to spend a day or more there would be conducive neither to health nor comfort. However, it reminded me very forcibly of what our forefathers had to put up with, and of the words of the old Squire of Crosby, who writes in his diary in 1716: ‘I spent a day in a strait place for a fat man!’ That was in the same year, 1716, mentioned above, when the Hall at Crosby was being searched for priests and Papists. The old house at Priestholme still exists exactly as Father Brockholes left it. Mass was said for many years in the main room on the first floor, and there are still preserved a cupboard nicely carved with sacred emblems and other relics of his stay.

“I spent a day in a strait place for a fat man!”

Rev. Roger Brockholes died October 10, 1743. His brother Thomas, though the eldest son, renounced his worldly prospects, went to Douai College, was there ordained, and long served the Mission at Chillington, in Staffordshire. He may well be considered the greatest benefactor of the Claughton Mission, as it is chiefly owing to him that Butt Hill Farm belongs to the priest, and the generous manner in which he bestowed the gift greatly enhanced its value.

Rev. Roger Brockholes was succeeded by Rev. James Parkinson. During his pastorate the house built by Mr. Taylor was bought for the use of the priest from its then owner, Mr. L. Butler. This purchase was made in the memorable year 1746, when Prince Charles Edward made his disastrous march through Lancashire to Derby; but the political troubles of this second rising seem to have exerted no retarding influences on the peaceful growth of the Claughton Mission. Mr. Parkinson converted the room, now occupied as a library, into a chapel, and there are still – i.e., in 1873 – remaining in the floor marks where the altar-rails were fixed. It was approached from the back by stone steps, which still exist, now forming the shelves of a cupboard at the head of the stairs. Rev. James Parkinson died January 26, 1766, of a fever caught in attending the sick of his flock, after having served the Mission of Claughton about twenty-two years.

At length he escaped by leaping through a port-hole into the sea and swimming ashore

The next priest was Rev. John Barrow. He was in every sense of the word a most remarkable man. After beginning his ecclesiastical studies in Rome, he returned to England on business, and was actually seized by a press-gang, and forced to serve on board a man-of-war for seven years. On one occasion he was severely wounded in the hand. At length he escaped by leaping through a port-hole into the sea and swimming ashore. When retaken and tried by court-martial, he got off by pretending to speak no other language but Italian – he evidently could not be a British bluejacket – and when told by the suspicious president that he was acquitted and might go, he had the precence of mind to pretend not to understand, but asked the interpreter, ‘Che dice?’ (‘What’s he saying?’)

In an interesting letter, which, however, scarcely bears quotation in full, he writes: ‘Claughton, 23 Sep. 1808. Most Rev. and truly esteemed Friend, You cannot entertain a greater desire to renew our former friendship and real regard for each other than does the Old Tar of Claughton; where I have been and hope to remain while my old timbers stick together… I arrived at Claughton 13th July, 1766 and have remained stationary ever since, these 42 year and 3 months… I will conclude this letter, though in years younger than you are (for I am now 74) with every good wish etc.’

Mr. Barrow twice effected great alterations in the church; the second time, in 1794, he considerably enlarged it, and to this day it remains substantially what he left it. But he was far from being satisfied with having placed on a satisfactory footing the spiritual interests of his flock. He became overseer of roads to the township, and he acted with such vigour and determination that the roads of Claughton became the wonder of the neighbourhood.

The following anecdote is related by Mgr. Gradwell: ‘His  demands upon the farmers for supplies of stones for the new roads became so frequent, that loud murmurs expressed their discontent. On one occasion a farmer named Hothersall so far lost his temper as to threaten to shoot ‘Old Barrow’ when next he came across him. This soon got to Mr. Barrow’s ears, and at once he accepted the challenge, ordered out his horse, took down his brace of pistols, and lost no time in riding to the spot where he expected to find Hothersall. Arriving where the men were busily employed on collecting road metal, he called out, ‘Is Jack Hothersall here?’ and at once offered him one of the pistols, retaining the other for himself. As might be expected, the grumbler was not prepared for such an encounter; he silently withdrew, and the work of road-making went on apace. He likewise acted as overseer of the poor, and it was in consequence of his untiring exertions that the workhouse, now disused, was erected in the lane leading from Fleet Street to the high-road.

The service rendered by him to the Secular Clergy Fund were of inestimable value. In the year 1783 he was appointed collector for the Hundred of Amounderness. For twenty-eight years previously Rev. J. Carter, of Newhouse, had been book-keeper and master of the fund. In those days good investments were scarce, and it had been the practice to lend out moneys on bond to numerous individuals. This often lead to difficulties, as by deaths the bonds occasionally passed into new hands, the principal could not be recovered, and often the interest fell into arrear. It was resolved, shortly after the appointment to office of Mr. Barrow, to have all the accounts paid in and lodged for security in the English funds, then bearing 4 per cent interest. The task was entrusted to Mr. Barrow’s management, and well did he discharge the trust. The following racy anecdote belongs to this period. A sum of money, under £100, belonging to the fund, had somehow got into the hands of Mr. Cawthorne, then M.P. for Lancaster, and owner of Wyreside and Bleasdale; but neither interest nor principal could be got from him. The privilege of a Member of the House of Commons protected him from arrest, but Mr. Barrow, nothing daunted, having got the debt legally transferred to himself, took advantage of a dissolution of Parliament, and accompanied by a Sheriff’s officer duly furnished with a writ, attended the hustings at Lancaster on the nomination day. When Mr. Cawthorne advanced to address his constituents, the officer arrested him for the debt. Mr. Cawthorne remonstrated, said he had no money; but Mr. Barrow insisted, and reminded him that had plenty of friends about him, and that the sum was small. The appeal was successful, the money was raised, and given to Mr. Barrow. Mr. Cawthorne was released by the Sheriff’s officer, and Mr. Barrow went home with flying colours. In August, 1787, Mr. Barrow paid over to Mr. Dennett £19 16s., the balance remaining in his hands to the credit of the fund, and retired from office. He had rendered a most important service to his brethren by thus collecting the small scattered sums constituting their fund, and in after years he recalled it with evident gratification.

In corroboration of the foregoing anecdote from Mgr. Gradwell, the two following are quoted from Mr. Hewitson. The Vicar of Chipping had the misfortune to offend Mr. Barrow, who swore that if he ever caught him he would horse-whip him. Well, the Vicar happened to turn up one fine day in some part of the district, and having ascertained this, Mr. Barrow set off to administer the promised castigation. In the meantime the Vicar had got an inkling of the approaching Nemesis, and he lost no time in shifting his quarters. Father Barrow gave chase for some distance, but fright put mettle into the movements of the Vicar, who escaped rapidly into his own native hills. – His own people, too, sometimes felt the force of his ire. One Sunday some singing was going rather awkwardly in the chapel, and amongst the singers there was one unlucky wight who made a most unhappy noise. Father Barrow having had his ears sufficiently grated during the earlier portions of the service with this man’s ‘vocalisation,’ finally lost all patience, and turning round from the sanctuary, said: ‘Will ta hold thy noise! thou roars worse than Sandham’s bull.’ There was a bull belonging to one Sandham in the district, which bellowed so awfully that it became a complete nuisance to all the folk in the neighbourhood; and the blunt honest priest could not bethink himself of a better illustration for the benefit of the roaring singer, which, we imagine, put a speedy quietus upon him for some time afterwards. – But Mr. Barrow was no fool. We have mentioned his excellent work for the Secular Clergy Fund. The loyal part he took in the bitter controversies which then agitated the Catholics of England was acknowledged by the authorities in Rome, and amongst the archives of the Mission is still preserved a letter in Latin from the Cardinal Antonelli of those days, in which his fidelity to the Holy See and his zeal in championing its cause are set forth in warm terms. His zeal and wisdom led him to have a large share in founding the great College of the North at Ushaw. It was a question where land could be obtained for the new college, rendered necessary by the confiscation of the colleges in France due to the French Revolution.

Confiscation of the colleges for seminarians due to the French Revolution

At last it was decided to purchase from Sir Edward Smythe a portion of Ushaw Moor, and then erect the necessary buildings. Unfortunately, Sir Edward was not a free vendor, as by the entail of the property he could exchange, but was not able to sell. This was a new source of delay, and here Mr. Barrow came to the rescue. He entered into correspondence with Sir Edward, and undertook to purchase a property required to effect the exchange. Indeed, in spite of endless difficulties, the energy of Mr. Barrow triumphed, a desirable property was purchased for the exchange, and Ushaw Moor was conveyed to the Bishop.

The subsequent building of schools

Mr. Barrow died February 12, 1811. For the next hundred years the Mission of Claughton was in charge of members of the Gradwell family – two brothers, Robert and Henry, and their nephew Robert. All were men of exceptional refinement and ability. Robert the uncle left Claughton (1809-1817) to become Rector of the English College at Rome, and from that post he was appointed coadjutor to the Vicar-Apostolic of the London District. He died in 1833, at the early age of fifty-six. Rev. Henry Gradwell (Claughton, 1817-1860) enlarged the chapel by adding the sanctuary and raising the roof, and in the following year (1836) he built the present most comfortable house. With the assistance of Catherine Barton he bought the land and built the present schools, which all agree are an ornament to the neighbourhood. ‘The memory of this good woman,’ writes Mgr. Gradwell, ‘ought never to be let die in Claughton. She must be reckoned as the first founder and chief benefactor of the schools; her love of education, her forethought and generosity, deserve the lasting gratitude of the children and their parents.’ In her early years she had entered the service of the Duke of Norfolk, who married a Miss Brockholes, and she rose in his service till she became housekeeper at Arundel Castle. Her later years were spent at Claughton, and she is buried at Newhouse.

A lady who had worked hard in service of God and neighbour

Rev. Robert Gradwell, jun., came to assist his uncle in 1856. He took over the full charge in 1860, and from that date till his death in 1906 – a period in all of no less than sixty years – his one pleasure was to adorn the church, the grounds, and the presbytery. Besides the not inconsiderable income of the Mission, he spent a very fair private fortune on these objects, and he left the Mission at his death rich in historic associations, and in all that could make it pleasing to the scholar and the antiquarian.

One of the oldest sites

In 1894 he celebrated the centenary of the church, which had been opened by Mr. Barrow in 1794. But portions of the priest’s house were used for Mass, a hundred years previous to this again, in the time of Mr. Blackburn and Mr. Taylor, so that the site as a whole ranks amongst the oldest of our present Lancashire chapels.

Rev. Henry Holden came as assistant to Mr. Gradwell in 1889, and succeeded him at his death. In 1916 he was transferred to St Peter’s, Lancaster, but even the great beauties of that church and mission could not repay his regret at leaving Claughton. He was succeeded by Rev. James Lowry, to whose kindness and hospitality the present writer is indebted for a most pleasant week of pilgrimage to this and the neighbouring chapels of the Fylde.”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1925

 

 

 

 

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